Vintage 1950s Italian Mid-Century Modern Coffee and Cocktail Tables
Osvaldo Borsani for sale on 1stDibs
With his stylish and technically innovative furniture, Osvaldo Borsani helped change the face of Italian design in the 1950s and ’60s. His sofas and chairs, featuring deeply upholstered seating and adjustable position settings, have an aura of optimism and efficiency that still seems fresh and lively today.
Born in the commune of Varedo in northern Italy’s Lombardy region, Borsani studied at the Brera Academy in Milan — the same school attended by such luminaries as designer Piero Fornasetti and artist Lucio Fontana — as well as the Polytechnic University of Milan. Borsani first worked for his father’s furniture-making firm, Arredamenti Borsani, an atelier influenced by the more expressive and curvaceous wing of Art Deco design. By 1953, when, along with his twin brother, Fulgenzio — the pair also created this visionary mid-century villa — Borsani opened the furniture company Tecno, his design sensibilities had evolved toward furnishings with strong, simple forms enhanced by mechanical innovations, as with the P40 adjustable armchair (1953). Borsani would be the firm’s lead designer for 30 years, while fostering work by Vico Magistretti, Carlo di Carli, Robin Day and others.
Similar to Gio Ponti in the earliest years of his career, Borsani first created designs marked by lush and buoyant lines: tables with voluptuous curved legs, sofas with undulating backrests. But Borsani’s best-known and most novel pieces date from Tecno’s initial furniture lines: the adjustable D70 sofa, which folds open to make a daybed, and the P40 recliner. The latter — now included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Victoria & Albert Museum — is an articulated lounger with a back, seat and leg rest that can be moved into 486 different positions. Not only is it extremely comfortable, it is also enduringly chic.
A Close Look at mid-century-modern Furniture
Organically shaped, clean-lined and elegantly simple are three terms that well describe vintage mid-century modern furniture. The style, which emerged primarily in the years following World War II, is characterized by pieces that were conceived and made in an energetic, optimistic spirit by creators who believed that good design was an essential part of good living.
ORIGINS OF MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE DESIGN
- Emerged during the mid-20th century
- Informed by European modernism, Bauhaus, International style, Scandinavian modernism and Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture
- A heyday of innovation in postwar America
- Experimentation with new ideas, new materials and new forms flourished in Scandinavia, Italy, the former Czechoslovakia and elsewhere in Europe
CHARACTERISTICS OF MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE DESIGN
- Simplicity, organic forms, clean lines
- A blend of neutral and bold Pop art colors
- Use of natural and man-made materials — alluring woods such as teak, rosewood and oak; steel, fiberglass and molded plywood
- Light-filled spaces with colorful upholstery
- Glass walls and an emphasis on the outdoors
- Promotion of functionality
MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE DESIGNERS TO KNOW
- Charles and Ray Eames
- Eero Saarinen
- Milo Baughman
- Florence Knoll
- Harry Bertoia
- Isamu Noguchi
- George Nelson
- Danish modernists Hans Wegner and Arne Jacobsen, whose emphasis on natural materials and craftsmanship influenced American designers and vice versa
ICONIC MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE DESIGNS
- Eames lounge chair
- Nelson daybed
- Florence Knoll sofa
- Egg chair
- Womb chair
- Noguchi coffee table
- Barcelona chair
VINTAGE MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE ON 1STDIBS
The mid-century modern era saw leagues of postwar American architects and designers animated by new ideas and new technology. The lean, functionalist International-style architecture of Le Corbusier and Bauhaus eminences Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius had been promoted in the United States during the 1930s by Philip Johnson and others. New building techniques, such as “post-and-beam” construction, allowed the International-style schemes to be realized on a small scale in open-plan houses with long walls of glass.
Materials developed for wartime use became available for domestic goods and were incorporated into mid-century modern furniture designs. Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen, who had experimented extensively with molded plywood, eagerly embraced fiberglass for pieces such as the La Chaise and the Womb chair, respectively.
Architect, writer and designer George Nelson created with his team shades for the Bubble lamp using a new translucent polymer skin and, as design director at Herman Miller, recruited the Eameses, Alexander Girard and others for projects at the legendary Michigan furniture manufacturer.
Harry Bertoia and Isamu Noguchi devised chairs and tables built of wire mesh and wire struts. Materials were repurposed too: The Danish-born designer Jens Risom created a line of chairs using surplus parachute straps for webbed seats and backrests. The Risom lounge chair was among the first pieces of furniture commissioned and produced by legendary manufacturer Knoll, a chief influencer in the rise of modern design in the United States, thanks to the work of Florence Knoll, the pioneering architect and designer who made the firm a leader in its field. The seating that Knoll created for office spaces — as well as pieces designed by Florence initially for commercial clients — soon became desirable for the home.
As the demand for casual, uncluttered furnishings grew, more mid-century furniture designers caught the spirit.
Classically oriented creators such as Edward Wormley, house designer for Dunbar Inc., offered such pieces as the sinuous Listen to Me chaise; the British expatriate T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings switched gears, creating items such as the tiered, biomorphic Mesa table. There were Young Turks such as Paul McCobb, who designed holistic groups of sleek, blond wood furniture, and Milo Baughman, who espoused a West Coast aesthetic in minimalist teak dining tables and lushly upholstered chairs and sofas with angular steel frames.
As the collection of vintage mid-century modern chairs, dressers, coffee tables and other furniture for the living room, dining room, bedroom and elsewhere on 1stDibs demonstrates, this period saw one of the most delightful and dramatic flowerings of creativity in design history.
Finding the Right coffee-tables-cocktail-tables for You
As a practical focal point in your living area, antique and vintage coffee tables and cocktail tables are an invaluable addition to any interior.
Low tables that were initially used as tea tables or coffee tables have been around since at least the mid- to late-1800s. Early coffee tables surfaced in Victorian-era England, likely influenced by the use of tea tables in Japanese tea gardens. In the United States, furniture makers worked to introduce low, long tables into their offerings as the popularity of coffee and “coffee breaks” took hold during the late 19th century and early 20th century.
It didn’t take long for coffee tables and cocktail tables to become a design staple and for consumers to recognize their role in entertaining no matter what beverages were being served. Originally, these tables were as simple as they are practical — as high as your sofa and made primarily of wood. In recent years, however, metal, glass and plastics have become popular in coffee tables and cocktail tables, and design hasn’t been restricted to the conventional low profile, either.
Visionary craftspeople such as Paul Evans introduced bold, geometric designs that challenge the traditional idea of what a coffee table can be. The elongated rectangles and wide boxy forms of Evans’s desirable Cityscape coffee table, for example, will meet your needs but undoubtedly prove imposing in your living space.
If you’re shopping for an older coffee table to bring into your home — be it an antique Georgian-style coffee table made of mahogany or walnut with decorative inlays or a classic square mid-century modern piece comprised of rosewood designed by the likes of Ettore Sottsass — there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Both the table itself and what you put on it should align with the overall design of the room, not just by what you think looks fashionable in isolation. According to interior designer Tamara Eaton, the material of your vintage coffee table is something you need to consider. “With a glass coffee table, you also have to think about the surface underneath, like the rug or floor,” she says. “With wood and stone tables, you think about what’s on top.”
Find the perfect centerpiece for any room, no matter what your personal furniture style on 1stDibs. Browse a vast selection of antique, new and vintage coffee table and cocktail tables today.